Decades later, Johnstown museum revisits history of rebuilding city after disaster

Destination PA

JOHNSTOWN, CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — There are many opportunities to revisit history in Central PA. In the heart of Johnstown is a reminder of what happened to their city 130 years ago: The flood.

“I think people began to recognize that this sort of flood is national, biggest news story of the late 19th century. It was a big scandal,” Richard Burkert, President and CEO of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, said.

At the Johnstown Flood Museum off Washington Street, the exhibit explains the before, during, and aftermath of the disaster.

“There’s a lot of new interactive media that can really help bring this story to life,” Burkert said.

Like a lighting and sound animated map that shows the route of the flood.

“The dam was owned by some of the wealthiest men in America, who had a summer resort 14 miles up river, and a shotty dam broke under heavy rain and killed 2200 men, women, and children here in Johnstown,” Burkert explained.

The map includes even the smallest details, like John Hess, who was on a work train when he saw the water rushing towards the city.

“He put his train in reverse and tied down the whistle and gave warning to people in the suburbs that something bad was happening,” Burkert said.

And around the exhibit are relics and remnants the Johnstown Heritage Society has collected for decades, including a platter from Schultz family, who survived the flood despite their home getting caught in the wave.

“How your house gets turned sideways, swept half a mile, and skewered by a tree and this china plate is still (here). I mean that’s a good story,” Burkert said.

But what really makes this museum unique, their film “the Flood,” which was directed by Oscar winner Charles Guggenheim.

“We actually won 1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject, and that was…what a huge coo to bag and bring back to Johnstown that this story was recognized again internationally,” Burkert said.

From Hollywood films, to even kids’ cartoons, the Johnstown Flood continues to be remembered.

“There is a Mighty Mouse cartoon where Mighty Mouse saves the mice of Johnstown,” Burkert said.

And at this museum it’s a lesson in unity and resilience for the people of the city.

“I think it took the entire front page of the New York Times for nine straight days so that everyone threw themselves into the recovery of Johnstown,” Burkert said.

Admission to the Johnstown Flood Museum is $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, and $7.50 for children from 3-18. Children 2 and under are free.

As of June 24, 2020, the Johnstown Flood Museum is open five days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Hours for Sunday are 12 p.m. to 5:00 pm.

All museums are wheelchair-accessible, and the film presentations are captioned.

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February 07 2021 06:30 pm

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